No Workplace Violence Restraining Order Without Threat of Violence

By Joanne Deschenaux, J.D. November 7, 2022
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​Takeaway: A workplace violence restraining order (WVRO) should be issued only if an employee has been subjected to violence or a credible threat of violence. Rude and aggressive behavior alone does not justify the issuance of an WVRO.

​Although a credit union customer acted rudely and aggressively toward a teller, the customer made no credible threat of violence, and therefore the credit union was not entitled to a workplace violence restraining order (WVRO) on behalf of the employee, a California appeals court ruled.

The petition for a WVRO filed with the trial court described a single encounter between the customer and the teller. The teller stated that the customer became visibly angry and aggressive toward her while she was assisting him, made a video recording of her without her consent, made several rude and inappropriate statements questioning her mental competency, repeatedly refused her request to stop video recording her, and forced a pen and paper back toward her and demanded that she write down his account number.

The teller stated that the encounter made her extremely scared for her personal safety. She believed that due to the customer's aggression and the fact that he later posted videos of the incident on the Internet, he was planning to come back and find her again. She stated that further encounters were likely because the customer frequently visited the branch where she worked.

The customer admitted that he had an interaction with the teller and had made a video recording of the interaction, which he posted on his YouTube channel. He denied the teller's other claims concerning his conduct on that occasion and denied that he had made a credible threat of violence against her.

The customer's four-minute video begins in the middle of the transaction with the customer criticizing the teller. Only the teller can be seen on the video, and she is behind a Plexiglas barrier. She twice asks the customer to stop recording, but the recording continues.

The customer demeans the teller at length. She remains calm and polite throughout the video, despite his rude and impatient comments. When she asks him to confirm his telephone number, he refuses to do so and insists that she "write it down." He asks for her supervisor's name and phone number and her name, and she gives him a pen and pad, which he pushes back to her through an opening in the Plexiglas barrier while saying "stop wasting my time."

After this incident, the teller said that she felt frightened, had a panic attack and worried that the customer would return that same day and harm her.

Based on this evidence, the trial court issued a WVRO, ordering the customer to stay away from the credit union. The customer appealed.

California Law Regarding WVROs

Under California law, if any employee has been subjected to unlawful violence or a credible threat of violence at the workplace, the employer may seek a WVRO on behalf of that employee.

"Credible threat of violence" is defined as a knowing and willful statement or course of conduct that would place a reasonable person in fear for his or her safety, or the safety of the person's immediate family, and that serves no legitimate purpose.

The appellate court found insufficient evidence that the customer had made a credible threat of violence and ruled that the WVRO had been improperly granted.

The customer's conduct was rude, impatient, aggressive and derogatory, the court said. In addition, he had a history of using aggressive language, including making offensive remarks. However, the only threats he made were that he intended to pursue litigation and complain to a federal agency. His actions toward the teller consisted of berating her, complaining to her supervisor and posting an accurate video of their interaction on YouTube.

Although the evidence established that the teller found the customer's conduct extremely troubling, a WVRO should be granted only when there is a credible threat of violence that would cause a reasonable person to fear for that individual's safety, the appeals court explained.

Here, the customer's conduct reasonably caused the teller to want to avoid any further encounters with him due to his aggressive and rude conduct. In addition, the court said, there was evidence that the teller was actually afraid of the customer. However, this was not sufficient to support a finding that a reasonable person would believe the customer would resort to violence against the teller or would encourage anyone else to do so. Under these circumstances, the WVRO could not be upheld, the court concluded.

Technology Credit Union v. Rafat, Calif. Ct. App., No. H049471 (Aug. 17, 2022).

Joanne Deschenaux, J.D., is a freelance writer in Annapolis, Md.

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